Is George Will Actually a (20th-century American) Liberal in Disguise?
April 1988By Charles L. Garrettson III
Charles L. Garrettson III is a Lecturer in Religion at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Like George Will, he is an Episcopalian and wears bow ties.
George Will has argued that in America there are almost no conservatives, properly understood. Yet he has been quite open in his claim to be such a conservative. Wills conservatism has been marked by a willingness to criticize, and at times denounce, what in fact passes for conservatism in this country. The question is: Is the basis for his doing so truly conservative, or is it more truly liberal?
Whatever Will is, he is certainly not the type of conservative who claims the name in the chambers of Americas commerce. Will does not necessarily equate General Motors good with The Good. He has said, for instance, that Conservatives rightly defend the market as a marvelous mechanism for allocating resources. But when conservatives begin regarding the market less as an expedient than as an ultimate value, or the ultimate arbiter of all values, their conservatism degenerates....
He makes clear his distance from what is normally regarded as conservatism: I cheerfully concede what some soi-disant conservatives charge: my conservatism is not theirs. Some of what passes for conservatism is a radically anti-political ideology, decayed Jeffersonianism characterized by a frivolous hostility toward the state, and lacking the traditional conservative appreciation of the dignity of the political vocation and the grandeur of its responsibilities.
He calls his own kind of conservatism traditional or proper or European conservatism. He distinguishes this from what is merely a defense of industrialism and individualist free market economics. He does so by arguing that whereas conservatism [that is, authentic conservatism] is about the cultivation and conservation of certain values, or it is nothing, what has passed for conservatism in this country has, to me contrary, tended to sponsor an industrialism [which] has been a thorough solvent of traditional value .
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